Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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Project completion and academic rejection

When I started my PhD I was lucky to already have a few papers published from when I was working as a full-time RA. Granted, I was nth author on most of those papers (where n > 1), but I was first author on one of them.

That was totally cool. I had an idea, tried it out, and it worked! I wrote a really short paper and got it published! The whole process was easy, but it skewed my idea of what scientific publishing was like.

You see, I really care about my thesis research... it's not a side project or a neat data analysis idea. It matters to me. And now that my papers are starting to get rejected I've come to realize that I need to rethink my notion of "finished".

When I started grad school, here's how I thought the academic scientific process worked:
  1. Have awesome idea.
  2. Do awesome research and be most excellent.
  3. Write well and present your data clearly.
  4. Send to journal.
  5. Get reviewed.
  6. Get helpful feedback from your peers.
  7. Nature paper!
 What I'm coming to realize is that it can work a bit more like this:
  1. Have awesome idea.
  2. Do awesome research and be most excellent.
  3. Write well and present your data clearly.
  4. Send to coauthors.
  5. Rewrite... and iterate...
  6. Finally send to journal.
  7. Get reviewed.
  8. Get helpful feedback from your peers.
  9. Have editor reject you anyway.
  10. WTF?
  11. Send to daughter journal after addressing reviewer's comments and reiterating with coauthors again.
  12. Don't get reviewed!?! Argh!
  13. Send to another journal.
  14. Get reviewed! Phew!
  15. Get helpful feedback from your peers.
  16. Have editor reject you anyway but leave the door open to keep your hopes up. GRR!
  17. Get a real job where you get paid more than what you'd be making if you went on unemployment and actually see a project to completion in less than a year.
Okay, I'm not actually doing step 17, but it is pretty sad that most PhD students make less than unemployment...

Anyway, my point here is that previously I thought that, as soon as I did all the "hard" work of data analysis and writing, I would be done. But there's a lot of steps after that. There is a lot of extra work that needs to be done before a project is really finished. It's very frustrating to do so much work only to have to rework it so many times.

Nevertheless, it's still amazing to me that I get paid to think and have good ideas. I keep my own hours for the most part, and I really enjoy the work I do. I really can't complain that my papers aren't getting accepted into the top scientific journals--not all my work can be that awesome--but when you put so much time into something you do want to see it succeed.

It's the waiting to hear back that's the worst, though.


  1. Check out "Down the impact factor ladder".

    I'm pretty sure that with so many journals available, you'll be able to publish it somewhere. Besides, in the near future you'll think that it was ok to get your article rejected since you'll have better ideas and better ways to write them.


  2. Sargis, that pretty much sums it up :)